First, let me start by saying I’m no expert on dryland training. I’m just a coach who asks experts what the swimmers should do, so this is more of an observation as a coach and as a rehabilitating athlete (someone who doesn’t work out as much as he should and, when he does, forgets he’s not 20 anymore).
The idea for this article dates back to when I was a high school coach, and witnessed what I’ve always referred to as “the high school bench press.”
The goal of the high school bench press was simply to impress your friends. How much weight could you put up, no matter what the form. Back off the bench… one leg in the air… bar wobbling from one side to the other as the athlete pushes one side, then the other… hoping the bar doesn’t tip too far and fall onto the floor. Basically, an injury-inducing, dangerous, non-productive exercise that gives high school boys a reason to pound their chests.
Because of this, our rule to start each season was… no weights on the bar until you prove mastery of the exact, controlled, smooth motion required for a bench press, using only the muscles that specific exercise was designed to target. Typically, for a standard circuit, it would take nearly 2 weeks for the boys to prove to me they could control all the machines to the point where we’d start to add weight. When the weights went on, the form had to stay the same, or the weight would come off.
I always felt that if we focused more on slow, smooth, and pin-pointed movements, it would transfer better to strengthening specific muscles, and also teach the athletes that swimming was also about controlling specific movements so that the form had function.
Again, I take this back to my time as a head high school coach… which is now many years ago. With methods and technology, and knowledge now decades advanced, my mindset may be old fashioned and out of date (hoping for confirmation or teaching here), but as an older “athlete,” I still slow down, and lighten the weight when initiating any exercise. If I’m able to be consistent enough, as the fitness and strength come in, only then do I allow myself to break through to the next level… all while maintaining the same form.
The thought of not screaming while training may seem the reverse of the mentality of today’s weekend warriors, but don’t be mistaken that this method is any less intense. Adding exacting form to your exercises, allowing the movements to be absolutely precise, takes incredible physical control, as well as mental focus.
Go light or go home means… if you’ve got too much weight on the bar, to the point you can’t control the movement, it’s time to either step back or, if you can’t seem to get that right balance on any exercise, leave the weight room (and hopefully head to the pool). It’s not worth it to risk injury, or to continue learning bad habits.